Most Sacramentans have at some point driven past the boastful marketing slogan on the glimmering silver water tower while heading north on Interstate 5.
It proclaims the region as “America’s Farm To Fork Capital,” a nod to the valley’s admittedly generous, multibillion-dollar agricultural bounty of more than 250 diverse crops. But a new survey released Monday by CapRadio, Valley Vision and Sacramento State’s Institute for Social Research suggests that food access and systems in the region are not inclusive of all Sacramentans, especially residents of color.
“A major takeaway is that we do have many food and agricultural strengths in our region,” Valley Vision CEO Evan Schmidt said of the poll. “But there's a lot of work left to be done to increase food access, to enhance the local farm to community to individual connection and to reduce disparities.”
Food insecurity in Sacramento is also greater than the United States average, a key finding.
“We had 16% [of survey respondents] overall who were in that rating of low or very low food security, which is higher than the U.S. average of around 12%,” Schmidt explained.
The survey also found that 25% of respondents reported using food assistance programs, and almost half had to tap into pandemic stimulus money to buy food that they otherwise couldn't afford. And more than one-third of residents ages 18 to 34 reported using food-assistance programs.
The distance people have to travel to access food assistance is also an issue, with 35% of those surveyed saying it takes more than 15 minutes to get to places that help them with food.
And the “buy local” campaign is not one that has included residents across race, age and income.
“We found that white, older and higher-income respondents were more likely to knowingly buy local, so kind of indicating that buying locally is more of a privilege than a standard practice,” Schmidt said.
Asian American and Pacific Islander, Latino and Latina residents said they prefer to shop for food at stores that specialize in products for their culture, religion or nationality. But 13% of overall respondents say it is difficult to access these stores, with AAPI respondents (25%) most likely to say it's hard to get these traditional, cultural foods in Sacramento.
Community gardens and access to homegrown foods and agriculture play a crucial role in Sacramento. A majority of residents of color valued the importance of these gardens. However, fewer than half of all of those who answered the survey have a garden on their property or access to one.
Still, when it comes to Sacramento’s water tower and the “Farm to Fork” brand, a majority of residents feel positively, according to the survey, including more than half of small town or rural residents in the region.
Schmidt with Valley Vision says a goal from the survey will be to develop solutions.
“These findings can help create a roadmap for how we can make systemic change to fundamentally improve these experiences,” she said, adding that Valley Vision has partnered with the Sacramento Region Community Foundation to create a food systems action plan. “It's really designed to strategically advance programs, policies and invite investment to support good system resilience.”
A few ways to improve food security, according to the plan, could include funding efforts to increase enrollment in CalFresh, a statewide program that helps low income residents purchase food; additional financial support for food banks and expanding investment in community gardens and food aid in communities of color.
The city of Sacramento has also launched a task force to focus on “food justice,” with the goal of serving communities disproportionately affected by the pandemic with nutritious and culturally appropriate homegrown foods.
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